Superintendent tapped as Pa. education chief
HARRISBURG — The superintendent of a large suburban Harrisburg school district will be Gov. Tom Corbett's nominee for education secretary and replace Ron Tomalis, who after a busy and rocky two-year tenure will move into an advisory role in the administration, Corbett said on Wednesday.
William Harner of the Cumberland Valley School District in Cumberland County will become the acting secretary June 1, Corbett said. He will require Senate confirmation to take the job of secretary.
Harner, a retired Army officer, will bring public school experience to an administration stacked with advocates for private, parochial, charter and cybercharter schools. In an interview Wednesday, he said the public school teachers in Cheltenham Township outside Philadelphia, where he grew up, “changed my world and my opportunities.”
“I was lucky to be in a great district, and in this role I'm going to do my best to make sure every district is a great district,” Harner said.
Corbett did not explain the reason for the change and an administration spokesman did not return messages Wednesday. Tomalis was not quoted in the statement, and he was replaced at two public speaking events Tuesday by one of his top deputies.
Corbett, a Republican, called Harner “an effective problem solver able to unite all sides in a common goal of educational excellence.” Tomalis, he said, worked hard to make Pennsylvania's public education system benefit all students.
The Department of Education oversees more than $14 billion in state and federal money for Pennsylvania's public schools, charter schools, libraries, universities and colleges, making it one of the state's most important agencies.
Tomalis declined interview requests Wednesday through an Education Department spokesman.
Tomalis had some successes and some failures as Corbett aggressively tried to empower private and charter schools while challenging school boards to stop raising taxes and universities to stop raising tuition.
A top Corbett priority of creating the state's first school voucher program to help low-income students in struggling public schools died in the Legislature, although it resulted in an expanded tax credit designed to achieve the same goal.
Tomalis served at a time when Corbett imposed deep cuts in aid to schools and universities to balance the disappearance of federal aid to bail out recession-wracked state budgets. The cuts in public school aid, which fell most heavily on the state's poorest school districts, sped the near-collapse of the Chester-Upland district in southeastern Pennsylvania before state lawmakers and federal courts intervened. Democratic lawmakers warn that the cuts to school aid have severely weakened many more of the state's poorest districts.
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